Sometimes a literary character – and an author – just doesn’t quit, staying popular generation after generation. Sometimes we call that a classic – Scarlett O’Hara, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Sometimes we call that Hercule Poirot.
Agatha Christie is the modern world’s most successful author (yes, even more than J.K. Rowling and Nora Roberts), third only to The Bible and Shakespeare, and has sold over two BILLION copies of her works (that’s 165 stories). Rowling only ranks ninth or so, with an estimated 500 million in sales. Sure, you can use the Gone With the Wind excuse that Rowling only hit big in 1997, while Christie’s first novel was published in 1920, so it has had a lot more years to gather sales (GWTW remains the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, due to its 1939 release date. Yes, more than Star Wars). Either way, there’s a reason for that.
Christie’s first and most popular detective is Hercule Poirot (the other being Miss Marple), a retired Belgian police officer with peculiarly meticulous habits and a brilliant mind for solving crimes, well-known for his thick black curling mustache – the only fictional character to ever have an obituary on the front of the New York Times. Poirot first appears in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)and goes on for more than 33 novels, 50 short stories, and a stage play. You may have heard of his most famous case: Murder on the Orient Express.
Originally published in 1934, Orient Express tells the story of a murder (obviously) that occurs on a train going from Istanbul to Calais, France, which Poirot, a passenger on the train, slowly unravels. The Orient Express is a real train service that began in 1883 and ran from Turkey to France, ending its official run in 2009 – operating in three centuries!
Numerous film and television adaptions of both Orient Express and Poirot’s mysteries have been made over the years, most notably the 1974 film adaption of Orient Express starring Albert Finney – the only actor to receive an Oscar Nomination for playing Poirot, though he didn’t win (Ingrid Bergman won as Supporting Actress for the role of Greta Ohlsson). The library has many volumes of television adaptions of Poirot’s mysteries. If comedy and spoofs are more your style, check out 1976’s Murder by Death, with James Coco as Milo Perrier (Poirot), Elsa Lanchester as Jessica Marbles (Miss Marple) and a host of top-name stars poking fun at all the famous detectives.
Low and behold, Murder on the Orient Express is once again returning to the big screen on November 10, 2017, with a – dare I say it? – killer cast. Kenneth Branagh, British superstar of myriad films including Henry V, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dunkirk, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and so many more, takes the lead as Poirot – not as short as Poirot is supposed to be, but ever since Hollywood ridiculously cast 5’6” Tom Cruise as 6’5” Jack Reacher, all rules are off. Add in Penelope Cruz, Dame Judy Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer and more, and it’s worth the price of admission just for the cast and the gorgeous period costumes and vehicles. Of course there’s already a furor raging among the purists about his mustache.
Kenneth Branagh is a superb actor but an even superior director, and with him in the director’s seat and the blessings of Agatha Christie’s estate, the film promises to be everything we want it to be. So prepare by reading a couple of Poirot’s mysteries, or check out a couple of other adaptions, and then watch the film. Or, give the movie a shot and then follow up with a binge of Poirot stories. When you run out, there’s always Miss Marple.